My Experience in Sport & Rec Ministry
I serve as an administrator of sports and recreation at a local church and as an adjunct professor for sport management and ministry. In addition, I have been an athlete, coach, spectator, and a parent. This means I have spent many hours watching games, observing practices, researching, and sitting in the stands. My roles and experiences have helped me come to understand the struggle of integrating the Christian faith within the sporting context.
Through my own personal growth and struggles, as well as research in the areas of integration of faith within sports, I have found this to be an area in which transformation and discipline are needed. Yet, for the Christian athlete, parent, or coach, there seems to be a struggle or a wrestling to integrate faith and sports. This struggle has led them to respond in a “compartmentalized” manner that adheres more towards our secular and global sports culture than that of Christian response and play.
Recently I have found myself in a number of gyms in which I witnessed contradicting behavior. While I don’t know every detail, and only God can truly know, it strikes me odd that coaches, parents, and leaders of recreation ministries and athletic teams believe they are developing and living out Christian principles of faith and honoring God, while at the same time, dehumanizing the referees, gossiping with others about the integrity of the other coach, and verbally abusing players for their performance. Why has this become the norm? How can someone speak of sports as an opportunity to teach character while behaving in a way contradictory to the gospel? How can one confess Christianity, but bear such un-Godly fruit within sixty minutes of athletic competition? This answer is compartmentalization.
Compartmentalization can be defined as the space in which an area is subdivided. Imagine a house diagram where each room is a “compartment” within the entire space of the house. Certain rooms hold certain belongings that are not integrated within the rest of the rooms or house.
Compartmentalization allows for putting the areas in which we are unsure of how to live in room, while behaving in the culturally expected actions of the activity. Compartmentalization allows for separation of actions while still believing we are living within Christian principles.
Compartmentalization is not a new concept. Ancient Greek philosophers spoke of compartmentalizing life into five realities: physical, mental, social, financial, and spiritual. Today’s psychologists refer to compartmentalizing as consciously separating life into compartments as a way of avoiding negative emotions. Business leaders suggest we even compartmentalize our work so that we are able to separate work issues from real life. While compartmentalization can be beneficial in certain areas, it is not a biblical concept.
I feel blessed that over the years I have had the pleasure of watching in person my sons participate in their sporting endeavors. From the days of Little League baseball and soccer to school sports, travel basketball, and travel volleyball. One of the best things my father gave me was his presence at all my events. My dad’s presence was stronger than most of what others tried to communicate to me about the way I should play the game. It was his presence that built confidence, a sense of genuine care, and that it was ok that I made mistakes and that he was present if I needed to talk about it or learn from it. The best part about my dads presence was that I was the most important person in his schedule for that time, not just another athlete he happened to see play when he could. The demonstration of my father’s commitment to my athletic endeavors created that desire to provide for my own children. While I have coached both of my sons on different occasions, I have found it most rewarding to simply be there….be there to watch them grow in character…be there to watch their sport development…be there to watch them experience the enjoyment of playing a sport of their choice.
Through the years I have often arrived at games with much excitement for the game and my child’s performance in the game. There have been times I knew my child would play well against a particular co-competitor and there were times when I was anxious as to how he would respond. Of course, the times in which I knew he would do well meant for a better mental and spiritual process for me. It was the times in which he struggled that created more “begs” to God than He probably wanted or cared about over a sporting match.
Recently, I was unable to travel with my son’s team. It was a back-to-back weekend travel schedule and I was there for the previous weekend, but due to work schedule and weather, I was not present for this series of games. What we know about being present is that the unknown is removed. You are aware of the game day operations, the teams participating, the refs, the coaches, and the interactions of the players and fans. It’s as though you can control (at least attempt to) what’s going on during the process. But, when you are absent, the mental faculties go crazy. You spend most of the time trying to create specific scenarios, interactions, and reasons for good or bad play. It really becomes an anxious event for you (the reason is its your child!). The unknown creates worry of failure while playing, fear of disrespecting officials and players, and the made up emotion of hurt for the team if they loose. There is also the emotion of a false sense of joy, excitement, and adrenaline that we create as we daydream about them winning. The unknown really created a roller coaster emotional experience.
On this particular weekend, I felt as though I was calm on the first day of the tournament. I awakened, prayed and asked God to bless the team and give them a great experience (of course He knew I meant wins). As the day went on, I would hear reports of the team losing one match, a second match, a third match that did include a win, and finally a fourth match. What happened? After all I prayed for God to bless the team. And by the sounds of my sons voice that night, he wasn’t experiencing any blessings.
Where does a father (parent) go from here? I wasn’t able to help him process all the events that would have caused such mishap. While he did share some wisdom with me regarding reasons for the losses, I found myself hurting that night for him and his teammates. The best I could do at the moment was go to my ever-trusty sports motivation quotes and send him two quotes to think about and tell him I love him. Meanwhile, I lay in bed praying to God for his experience the next day.
The next day arrived and I was up and ready. As a father struggling how to integrate my faith in Christ and sport, and share that with my son, I found guidance from bible regarding the mercies of the Lord being new everyday and sent it off to him in social media format. Just letting him know that today was a new day and we are reminded to put yesterday behind and enjoy the processes for today. I then jumped in, as many of us do, with prayers of blessings again for the team and his playing performance…only to be quickly stalled in the midst of my prayers. It was then the question of “what am I really praying for” came to light. While I can have multiple dialogues on whether God cares who wins or not during a sporting event, I was convinced that I was praying in a selfish manner. You see, in actuality I was praying for the selfish reasons in regards to performance such as:
As I continued to pray, I realized the need to re-focus. Sure, God does care about performance levels and behavior, but more importantly, God cares about His glory. When we pray for the glory of God to be displayed, just like it was in scripture (both with the first Adam in Genesis and the second Adam of Christ) we can do so as modeled by Jesus when he said, “Father, not my will but yours.” It’s then glory that can be revealed and create an altering transformation. Praying now for the team and my child was altered to:
Though I lived in a continual state of prayer on this day with anticipation of hearing about their matches, I am pleased to say that they responded to trials and placed third in their bracket out of sixteen. In final conversations with my son, we could dialogue about learning through the experiences. Learning how to communicate with teammates in difficult times, learning how to “play through” life’s disappointments, and learning how to lose and win in a Christ-like manner.
Most of all, I was thankful for the processes that God led me through that weekend. It caused me to re-focus on what’s most import – learning to pray for my child during his sporting events. While my son was facing struggles of competition, I too was facing struggles. Struggles of not being there physically to try to control the outcomes, struggles of wanting things to go their way so adversity wouldn’t be a factor, and struggles of how is it I’m to pray. Through my own adversity, God transformed the way in which I would pray for my child and his team. Not only does his performance need to reflect God’s glory, but also my prayers need to do the same.
The next time you’re at your child’s sporting event, ask God to show you how to pray for them and their team. It’s a learning curve we will all face.
Introducing This Week's Guest Blogger....
Greg English currently serves as Recreation Minister at Cool Spring Church and President of the Board of The Association of Church Sports and Recreation Ministries (CSRM). Greg is the husband to a Sports Fan Wife, father to one recreation athlete and one competition athlete and seeker of Christmanship in the Culture of Sports.
How can I as an athlete justify my sporting endeavors when I Timothy 4.8 reads: “exercise is of little value?”
Yes, I Timothy 4.8 is often translated to say physical exercise (and by implication, sports and athletics) is of little value and sadly this verse is often used to deter people from engaging in physical activity such as sports and athletics. Yet to use this verse to condemn or even criticize athletics demonstrates a lack of understanding of how to interpret the Bible (hermeneutics), including a classical error of basing one's interpretation on a poor translation. All good Biblical interpretation begins with a translation faithful to the orthodox traditions of hermeneutics. To that end, the following discussion begins with establishing the best possible translation of this verse. It continues with an exegesis of the verse and its context, including the requisite implications and applications the passage suggests. The result provides a reasonable assessment for athletes in regards to their involvement in athletics and whether or not their “physical exercise profiteth little.” Taken in its entirety, the following discussion helps to substantiate the third principle for establishing a Biblical defense for sport and athletics. It begins with an overview of the context in which verse eight is found.
Paul wrote two letters to his protégé, Timothy, who he had assigned as the leader (bishop) of the Ephesian church. The first epistle written to Timothy outlined directives for how the Ephesian church was to be organized, how leaders were to be chosen and developed, as well as how individual church members were to attain “godliness.” In this specific passage, found in chapter 4 of the first letter to Timothy, Paul is outlining obstacles to the spiritual growth necessary for attaining godliness. Verses seven and eight were given as a model to help overcome such obstacles. The specific model the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to articulate was an athletic one! The significance of this must not be overlooked or undervalued. Paul was inspired to urge first century Ephesian Christians to pursue godliness as an athlete pursued physical prowess. By extension, the model proposed to those in the early church is applicable for believers in all subsequent generations.
B. Which Translation
The athletic model of 1Timothy 4.7 and 8 is easier to comprehend in the original Greek than how it is often translated into English, such as the King James Version’s (KJV): “physical exercise profiteth little.” Verses seven and eight are rooted by three Greek words, each used twice. The first, gymnasia is translated “exercise,” and is found in both verses. It comes from the root word: gymnazo (gymnasium) which means to exercise or train as would an athlete. In verse seven this word is in the imperative, directing the Ephesians to engage in rigorous exercise and be diligent in their pursuit of godliness. In verse eight, the same word for exercise is used when comparing athletic endeavors to seeking to attain godliness.
The second word, also found in both verses, is eusebeian - translated devoutness or godliness. The implication of verse seven is the Ephesian believers were to train (gymnazo) for this godliness (eusebeian) with the same dedication as athletes who trained for the arena.
The third Greek word ophelimos – translated beneficial – is found only in verse eight but used twice to bring clarity to the overall message of the passage. It states the purpose of all exercising and training: a “beneficial” end. Training for the physical (somatike – bodily) is beneficial for a few things (oligon) but training for godliness is beneficial for all things (panta).
So, how have the various renditions of these verses been translated in regards to the value of physical exercise? The following examples are representatives of the three categories of traditional renderings:
Little value (profiteth little – KJV)
Less value (limited – Philips)
Some value (NIV)
There is an obvious disparity between these three. The first translation makes a negative evaluation: physical activity should not be engaged in because it has little intrinsic value. This suggests bodily exercise and athletics are negative or even sinful. At the very least, they are held in low regard. The second view, while a step in the right direction, does not hold physical activity with the same high esteem generally affirmed throughout the Bible, nor does it fit with the basic context and message of this passage. The first translation assumes physical exercise is evil and the second translation errs by not fully appreciating the intrinsic value of physical endeavors. Both should be rejected in favor of the third option.
The third translation does the best job of comprehending the immediate context while also affirming the entire Biblical perspective on sport. It appropriately renders a textual option affirming physical activity and its intrinsic value. Yet, it does so without erring in ascribing physical exercise a higher value than is Biblically prescribed. The first two options are antithetical to the context but the third is congruent with it. So, the proper translation should be “of some value,” not of “little” or “limited value.” It could be argued there is only a slight difference between “limited value” and “some value” but the latter is preferred because it states an affirmative whereas the former emphasizes the negative.
The significance of this point is made even more poignant when one realizes that while the Apostle Paul was the human writer of the epistles to his “son in the faith,” the true author of the Epistle was the Holy Spirit who intended the letter and its lessons to be a model for all future generations. He inspired Paul to specifically use an athletic term within an athletic motif and context to communicate both the implicit lesson: physical activity is beneficial for some things along with the explicit lesson: godliness is beneficial for all things.
Therefore, when context is considered, this verse cannot be interpreted to indicate the realm of sports and athletics are to be avoided, thought poorly of, or even more disturbing, devoid of virtue. The true message of this passage is a direct command to be actively, regularly and sincerely working hard to develop godliness, emulating athletes who work to better themselves physically. If verse seven was eliminated, verse eight would be translated quite differently. The problem of removing verse eight from its context, especially verse seven, becomes apparent. A completely antithetical interpretation is made when the verse is lifted from its context. It becomes even more apparent when isolated from the rest of the Bible.
So, a proper translation as found in the NIV and ESV ensures a proper hermeneutic (Biblical interpretation) and provides a solid foundation from which to base the following exegesis. Properly understood and rendered the verse should read: "bodily training is of some value" (ESV); "training your body helps you in some ways" (New Century Bible) or "workouts in the gymnasium are useful" (The Message).
C. Biblical A Priori:
A second basic underlying principle of Biblical interpretation is to allow Scripture to interpret itself by comparing and using other relevant Scriptures to shed light on the passage in question. As it relates to sport and athletics, the overwhelming Biblical evidence concerning sport is positive and thus would support the translation: “bodily training is of some value.”
What does the Bible state about athletics? First and perhaps foremost, the Scripture never condemns sport, athletics or physical activity. Secondly, every time the Bible mentions or references athletics it does so in a positive light. The most profound example of this is the Holy Spirit inspiring the Apostle Paul to use an athletic metaphor to summarize his life. It is inconceivable to believe God would inspire such a metaphor to describe the life of the most important, the most spiritually influential person, within the entire New Testament outside of Christ Himself or perhaps Barnabas, if the metaphor was intrinsically or inherently evil. Suffice it to say, athletics are treated favorably in Scripture.
Even more profound however, is not so much what this verse is not saying, as what it is saying. It places an intrinsic value upon physical activity by clearly stating it is of some value. This statement is in agreement with the overall Biblical view of sport and its perspective of the human body as found in the Corinthian correspondence and elsewhere.
To summarize then, this brief overview of the Biblical a priori on sport and athletics supports the third option of interpretation: “some value.” The first option of interpretation – “little value” does an injustice to the overall Biblical view (Biblical a priori) of physical activity and sport. The second interpretation “less or limited value” is a step in the right direction but still communicates the negative rather than the positive and thus doesn’t square with the overall message of the Bible. The best interpretation by far, is the third option because it is congruent with the rest of Scripture. The third option emphasizes the positives of physical activity while accurately upholding God’s intent to maintain spiritual activity as the highest, all-encompassing value.
So once again, rather than interpreting this verse as a support for denigrating athletics, this passage is in complete agreement with the rest of Scripture. It actually lifts athletic training and physical exercise up as great examples of a most beneficial model for spiritual growth! Followers of Christ are encouraged to approach their spirituality as would athletes their sporting endeavors: consistently, energetically and under the direction of a knowledgeable trainer. Certainly, Paul places spiritual development as the highest priority in a Christian’s life but any interpretation attempting to use this passage to state athletics as non-valuable, demonstrates a revealing bias and true lack of how to approach and interpret the whole of Scripture.
D. Biblical Comparison
A third aid in interpreting this passage comes from the Biblical technique of comparison. A good example of how to establish the meaning of a verse through the technique of comparison is Luke 14.26. Jesus’ teaching about hating one’s family members, at first blush, seems harsh and even unbiblical. Indeed, at face value, it is. However, when understood through the lens of Biblical comparison, Jesus’ command for His followers to “hate” their parents and siblings make sense. He wasn’t saying His followers were to conjure up passionate negative emotions or engage in hurtful actions towards family members. Rather He was teaching one’s love for God should be so passionate it would seem, by comparison, the person hated his or her family. Furthermore, Jesus demonstratively loved His family and He taught loving one’s family was imperative. Similarly, Paul uses the same teaching technique: comparison. By comparison, Paul wrote Spiritual activity is beneficial for all things, whereas physical activity is beneficial for a few things. This is quite different than saying it is of no value or “profiteth nothing.”
E. Summary of Biblical Interpretation of 1 Timothy 4.8
After a careful analysis, the true essence of this passage emerges: 1Timothy 4.8 affirms physical exercise. However, this passage cannot be used to suggest physical activity should be the highest priority or noblest virtue of a believer. Physical exercise is beneficial for some things but godliness is beneficial for all things. The strongest criticism anyone wishing to denigrate athletic endeavors can offer from this verse would be to use it as a safeguard to keep athletics and sports in check. This appropriate caution would help to maintain a proper perspective about sporting activities by insisting physical activity be kept in its rightful place as being important but never superseding spiritual endeavors. Furthermore, and perhaps even more profoundly, efforts to attain godliness can be enhanced if they emulate athletic training! For example, a consistent and fervent training program supervised under the watchful eye of a qualified “coach” will greatly advance one’s pursuit of godliness.
Thus, once again for emphasis, this passage cannot be used to denigrate sport or to discourage participation in athletics by stating the Bible condemns sporting endeavors. The Biblical perspective is clear: physical activities are of some value, but spiritual activities are to be valued above all others. Of course this then begs the question: can physical activities be separated from spiritual endeavors? Or perhaps more to the point: can people worship God through their physical activities? This frequently asked question will be addressed in the FAQ chapter; chapter eight.__________________________________________
Next week’s blog will discuss the second set of Biblical Obstacles to Sports Outreach
This blog is an excerpt from Dr. Greg Linville's new book "Christmanship: A Theology of Competition & Sport." It is a companion blog of an edited article by Rodger Oswald originally published in “The Sports Minister” Journal – Spring 2000 and the two should be read in tandem.
All rights reserved. For any reproduction right, including copying, computer reproduction, etc. contact: Dr. Greg Linville at CSRM International C/O The World Outreach Center 5350 Broadmoor Circle N. W. Canton, Ohio – USA 44709 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Other blogs and articles on Local Church Sports, sports theology and ethics written by Dr. Greg Linville and Rodger Oswald are archived at: www.csrm.org
The 3-Tier Paradigm
This series of blogs are excerpts from Dr. Linville’s yet to be released book. They explain and outline the 3-Tier Paradigm introduced in his book. The 3-Tier Paradigm is the organizational structure upon which Dr. Linville’s series of Sports Outreach Ministry books are based and serves as the guiding light for how the association of Church Sports & Recreation Ministries (CSRM) executes its equipping of local churches. This blog explains the Level #3 – Methodological Models part of the 3-Tier Paradigm
Level #3 Methodological Models: The What we do
Once a church has determined the Why, Where, When and With Whom for their Sports, Recreation and Fitness Outreach Ministries, they are then able to determine the What they are to do. What a church does is often the running of programs. Running “programs” has fallen into disfavor, and understandably so, but, missiologically-based programs will never fall out of favor! The difference can be seen in the following…
Application of Level #3 Methodological Models in Local Church Sports, Recreation and Fitness Outreach Ministries
If a congregation finds itself geographically in a suburban residential area made up of young families or an urban housing development populated by many latch-key kids, a relevant Level #2 With Whom strategy would be to employ a Level #3 Methodological Model of youth sports. This strategic and relevant missiological activity would effectively meet many of the needs of the community the congregation finds itself located, and provide the church with a significant ongoing method for reaching the community for Christ.
Conversely, if a local church is located in an industrial or civic location with offices and other work places for blue and white collar employees and executives, the relevant Level #2 missiological strategy to provide fitness facilities and opportunities, and/or health services, for the pre- and post-work or lunch-break crowd often proves both effective outreach and an efficient utilization of resources for gospel impact.
Strategies are the overarching Philosophical Principles a local church envisions for their sports outreach. These are based upon both Biblically-based wisdom and strategic comprehension of the geographic and demographic situation the church finds itself. Every church is positioned to reach its community and will be most effective when its Methodological Models are based in well researched and conceived Philosophical Principles.
Conversely, a church with most of its membership exceeding the age of 50 will find golf and bowling leagues to be much more effective than young adult softball or basketball outreaches. The main reason for this has to do with relationships. Church growth, which assumes evangelistic-disciplemaking, is based upon relational outreach. If the church offers a 20-something basketball league for young men but none of the church men play in the league, no relationships are built and thus very little evangelism actually takes place…at least any evangelism that occurs won’t translate into that church growing. It must be noted however, this church would be wise to start sports outreach for children which parents and grandparents can be involved in as coaches, referees and league directors for the purpose of building relationship with the next generation. Otherwise, this church has no future, only a present.
It becomes apparent, effective Level #3 Methodological Models are greatly dependent on understanding one’s community and how the local congregation is positioned to reach it. Effective and efficient Level #3 Methodological Model programs are only possible when they are strategically relevant as conceived of through Biblically-based Level #2 Philosophical Principles.
Next week’s blog will discuss the “Core Values” that undergird the What of local church Sports Outreach.
This blog is an excerpt from Dr. Linville's book Christmanship and a yet to be released book. All rights reserved. For any reproduction right, including copying, computer reproduction, etc. contact:
Dr. Greg Linville at CSRM International C/O The World Outreach Center 5350 Broadmoor Circle N. w. Canton, Ohio – USA 44709 or email@example.com
Other blogs and articles on Local Church Sports, sports theology and ethics written by Dr. Greg Linville are archived at: www.csrm.org
This is the sixth in a series of blogs addressing the question: Is Sports Outreach Working
and begins with the following premise:
The Sports Outreach Movement that emerged in the mid-20th Century was touted as a most strategic tool for Evangelism, Discipleship and church growth. In addition, most Sports Outreach Ministers and many Lead/Administrative Pastors believed Sports Outreach to be the most strategic tool the church could employ to accomplish the Great Commission. Yet, these leaders are now beginning to doubt it can deliver the promised results. They wonder…if Sports Outreach is so effective then why is the Western Church losing ground. The following statistics combined with those presented in previous weeks provide evidence of the decline of the local church.
The purpose of this series of blogs is two-fold: a) an explanation of why Sports Outreach has often been ineffective; and b) a proposal for how Sports Outreach can successfully meet its “Kingdom” oriented goals. The basis for this discussion flows out of the Six Sports Outreach Continuums of Tension and their impact on the current trends in Sports Outreach Ministry. The Continuums are:
This week focuses on Continuum of Tension #2: Christmanship / Sportsmanship / Gamesmanship.
Gamesmanship and Sportsmanship need little definition. Conversely, Christmanship may be unfamiliar to some. Gamesmanship defines what athletes do and think to win a game. Adherents commit to winning at all costs. The ultimate goal of the “gamesman” is to win… by fair means or by foul. Most likely, those adhering to Gamesmanship are also committed to a worldview called Sportianity (defined in previous blogs). Sportsmanship describes a code of ethics for athletics based upon humanistic relativism. Humanistic because the athletic code of conduct emerges out of what humans determine to be ethical. "Relative," because the Sportsmanship ethic changes according to shifts in the societal morals and the specific group of people who are deciding what is ethical. "Sportsmen" drift towards Sportianity.
Conversely, Christmanship describes the value system and ethos of athletes, coaches and fans committed to pursuing Christ above all else, including competing in the image of Christ and worshipping Him through their competing. They strive to win and have an affinity for certain aspects of Gamesmanship/Sportsmanship but they evaluate their success from a Biblical foundation.
Gamesmanship, Sportsmanship and Christmanship all share areas of overlapping agreement, with Sportsmanship occupying a middle ground between the other two concepts. This does not mean however, Sportsmanship should be considered Aristotle’s highest ethic: the “Golden Mean.” Sportsmanship has many excellent characteristics but is far from being the perfect model for sporting ethics. The following graph illustrates Christmanship shares an affinity with Sportsmanship because both are based on a higher standard than Gamesmanship’s ultimate ethic of winning. But there remains a sharp, foundational distinction between Christmanship and Sportsmanship.
Christmanship is founded upon the unchangeable final authority of the Word of God. Conversely, Sportsmanship is founded on the constantly changing ethic as determined by humankind. This does not mean Christmanship can’t affirm the overwhelming ethic of Gamesmanship – winning – or the basics of the Sportsmanship ethic – playing fair, striving for excellence etc. It does affirm these positive values but it also surpasses both, in its pursuit of not only playing to win and playing fair but more importantly, by playing in the image of, and to the glory of, Christ.
Relevance of the Sports Outreach Christmanship, Sportsmanship, Gamesmanship Tension Continuum
It’s not enough to choose Christianity over Sportianity. Individual Christian Sportspersons must compete in a Christmanship ethic and Local Church Sports must be conducted in a Christmanship ethic, both on and off the court, field or pitch. How you play will either glorify and honor Christ or it won’t. Local church Sports Outreach Ministries have the incredible opportunity to not only redeem the individual sports person but can also serve as a catalyst to transform and redeem the sports culture by “discipling” athletes of all ages in the Christmanship ethic. This is no little thing!